The N.Y.-Tel Aviv ‘Shuttle’: Living In Israel, Working In The U.S.
Fri, 05/23/2014
Lenny Solomon, Jamie Geller, Ben Aronoff.
Lenny Solomon, Jamie Geller, Ben Aronoff.

Making aliyah to Israel doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your day job in New York. While new immigrants obviously relish the idea of living in the Holy Land, there are a growing number of business professionals who are also willing to endure jet lag in order to continue benefitting from their lucrative jobs in the U.S.

Most of the transatlantic commuters wave goodbye to their families on Saturday or Sunday evenings, as they head to their flights from Ben-Gurion Airport and then flock back to JFK and Newark airports during the mid-day hours on Thursday in order to catch flights that are scheduled to arrive on Friday morning in Israel. An overwhelming majority of these new immigrant commuters purchased apartments and homes near Ben-Gurion Airport. For residents of metro Modi’in and Tel Aviv, that means only a 15 to 20 minute train ride to the airport or less than an hour by bus or car from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Ra’anana, cities that also feature a significant number of frequent fliers.

“Commuting is becoming more and more common,” said Rachel Berger, director of post-aliyah and employment for Nefesh B’Nefesh, which provides support to new immigrants. 

“If you have a good job in the U.S. which can be maintained after making aliyah, you can potentially take off some of the financial pressures of moving to Israel and encountering various expenses. We need to recognize that we live in a global economy, which means that one can commute or telecommute while enjoying the benefits of living and working locally. In essence, you are less limited with your geographic work location today. It’s a good short- or long-term option.”

For Dr. Benjamin Aronoff, who made aliyah from Bergenfield, N.J., nearly three years ago, Modi’in represented the best place for his wife and his kids to put down new roots.

“I commute to Teaneck every two weeks where I work as a nephrologist and doctor at the same practice that I worked in prior to aliyah,” Aronoff said. “I am affiliated with Hackensack University Medical Center and Holy Name Medical Center. “We chose Modi’in as we knew other olim there and its location being close to the airport, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. We actually moved to Modi’in with two other families from the Teaneck/ Bergenfield area. We found a warm and friendly community with many shuls. In Modiin’s Buchman neighborhood, where we live, there is the ‘American shul,’ which features many other olim from America, England, and South Africa. We were able to bond quickly as we went through similar experiences.”

Aronoff added that he has also befriended not only other commuters from Modiin, but also from Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Beit Shemesh. He added, “Even though we have a direct train to the airport, there are now enough families (with transatlantic commuters) that enjoy taking turns in car-pooling to and from the airport.”

Dr. David Schlussel also commutes from Beit Shemesh to the metro New York region every other week to maintain his dental practice. The Schlussel family made aliyah from New Milford, N.J., three-and-a-half years ago.

“He leaves for the U.S. on Saturday evenings after Shabbat, stays until Thursday afternoon and then arrives in Israel early Friday morning,” said his wife, Lisa Schlussel. “The advantage is that we get to live in Israel while my husband maintains his parnasa [income]. My husband has a successful dental practice and we have five kids. He could not just walk away and start anew. We needed a transition plan and the commuting is the transition plan. He also works in Israel when he is here, and the goal is to eventually move his practice over to Israel.”

She said that after they made aliyah, the “regulars” on New York-bound flights befriended her husband. “There are many commuters,” she added. “My husband definitely has a core [of commuters] that he often sees and who have similar schedules. They helped a lot initially, showing my husband the smoothest way to travel. Now it’s a nice experience for him.”

And then there are the “celebrity commuters.”

Philadelphia native Jamie Geller, who rose to prominence as a senior writer and producer at HBO in New York City and then reinvented herself as a best-selling Orthodox cookbook author and celebrity chef, made aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh nearly three years ago. However, Geller is still very much in demand in the Big Apple and beyond.

American viewers watching NBC’s “Today Show” right before Passover (Friday, April 11) had no idea that Geller, had just arrived from Israel in order to showcase her holiday chicken soup and honey brisket delicacies in NBC’s Midtown studios.

“Yes, I can do a substantial amount of work in my office at home, but I still need to fly to New York and other cities to guest on cooking shows, do my live culinary events and press conferences. While I’m not flying back and forth as often as my cousin, who also lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh and is a high-tech specialist, I’m on the plane at least six or seven times a year,” said Geller. “As for living in Ramat Beit Shemesh, yes, it’s convenient for me airport-wise but my husband and I moved there with the kids because we have relatives who live in Ramat Beit Shemesh as well.”

Lenny Solomon, the well-known Queens-born songwriter and singer who created the Shlock Rock band in 1987, moved to Beit Shemesh with his wife Tamar in 1996. The ongoing popularity of Shlock Rock enables Solomon to barnstorm his way throughout the USA (including Hattiesburg, Miss., and Fargo, N.D., earlier this month) at least eight times a year with a stop in his old neighborhood stomping grounds in Kew Gardens to visit family and friends.

“We made aliyah to Beit Shemesh for a very simple reason,” said Solomon. “My wife had friends there. For our kids, it’s a great place to live. And believe me, I see commuters all the time from Beit Shemesh and cities boarding flights for New York. There are regulars whom I see going back and forth all the time.” ◆